Several years ago my wife and I attended a writer's conference in Santa Barbara. Ray Bradbury was there and my wife gave him a copy of one of my science fiction short stories. Perhaps he liked it; he wrote me a short note offering some suggestions, which I tried to follow.


Here is the story:

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            I didn’t sleep well the night before Nahor lost me.

            It began three years ago, when I was a graduate student at the University of Jerusalem.  I was Dr. Eisenbraun’s—Nahor’s—assistant in the physics lab.  He got a special grant from the Israeli government to build a time machine, of sorts.

            Why a time machine, you ask?  Heard of terrorists?  Heard of hostage taking?  Sure you have.  But what has that got to do with time machines?  Let me see if I can explain.  It all started when Dr. Eisenbraun was at a cocktail party one evening back near the turn of the century, talking to the Prime Minister.  I wasn’t there; I was still a nobody then.

            But Nahor told me all about it.  He and the Prime Minister were chatting—they were old college buddies—and Nahor was in his best speculative mood. 

            “You know what would be nice?” Nahor asked.

            “A young, cooperative woman?”

            Nahor paused and thought about it awhile.  “I suppose so, but you know what else?”  Nahor’s sense of humor was about as sensitive as my toe is to taste.

            “Two young, cooperative women?”

            Nahor frowned.   “Certainly.  Let me finish; my question was rhetorical.  I know a way to stop terrorism and save the hostages in Lebanon.”

            “With two young, cooperative women?”

            Nahor shook his head.  “Stop trying to distract me.”  He took a deep breath.  “With a time machine!”

            The Prime Minister’s eyes widened, and then he chuckled.  “Is this your attempt at making a joke?  Or have you had too much to drink?”

            “I’m not drunk,” protested Nahor.  “But think about it. With a time machine, we could go back to when a terrorist attack occurred and stop it, or we could rescue hostages—or at least we could watch and see where they were taken.”

            The Prime Minister’s eyes danced jovially.  “Wouldn’t do any good; you can’t change the past, even if you could go back to it—so it wouldn’t be of any benefit in combating terrorism.”

            At that point Nahor dropped his glass.  A small thing, but it turned out to be a major turning point in history: one small slip for a man, one giant spill for mankind.  Sorry.  The glass struck the carpeting with a dull thunk, bounced, and sloshed the remnants of Nahor’s drink and ice cubes on the Prime Minister’s shoes and cuffs.

            “Damn...” mumbled Nahor.

            “Makes you wish you could stop time and rescue yourself, doesn’t it?” asked the Prime Minister looking at his shoes.

            Nahor’s eyes glazed as he stared at the glass on the floor; he began mumbling the lines of a story he’d been told in child­hood:

            “’O sun, stand still over Gibeon,

            O moon over the Valley of Aiyalon.’

            So the sun stood still,

            and the moon stopped,

            till the nation avenged itself on its enemies.”

            “Nahor, are you okay?”

            “What?”  He looked stupidly at the Prime Minister.  “Oh, yes.  I’m terribly sorry about your shoes and...”

            “Don’t worry about them; it’s just a little spill.”

            “All the same–”

            “I said don’t worry about them.”  The Prime Minister was firm.

            Nahor nodded.  “I think I’d better go home.  Perhaps I have had too much to drink.”

* * *

            Nahor grabbed me the next morning when I showed up at the University.

            “Yehudah, I need to see you.”  He looked ragged as he held open the door to his office.  I walked in sheepishly, figuring I was in trouble for programming Galactic Empire on the mainframe. Not that I was bothering anyone, or taking up important time; I had a speech all lined up about how programming the game helped me keep my edge.  But Nahor cut me off before I even got started.

            “I was talking to the Prime Minister last night.”

            I was in worse trouble than I thought.  I nearly fell out of my chair, but Nahor didn’t seem to notice.  He was walking around his office, waving his arms and rambling about a cocktail party; I didn’t understand what he was trying to get at, but pretty soon I figured out that it didn’t have anything to do with the game, so I started breathing again.

            “Don’t you see what it means?” demanded Nahor suddenly, thrusting his face in mine.  I shook my head.

            “Haven’t you been listening to me?”

            I swallowed hard.  “Yes sir, but time travel?  What has that got to do with anything?  It’s fun speculation for fiction writers, but...”

            He nearly exploded.  “I’m not talking about fiction!  I know how to travel in time; that’s no problem.  But what he said; such an idea!  It should be possible!”

            He rushed to the chalkboard and began scribbling madly, talking to himself as much as to me.  “Do you follow this?” he asked every five seconds. I kept nodding and mumbling in the affirmative.

            “But I don’t see how the theoretical possibility of time travel has anything to do with your conversation with the Prime Minister,” I said at last.

            Nahor sighed in such a way that I feared he was on the verge of pounding me with his calculator.  “Look, making a time machine is simply an engineering problem; that is, it’s a problem of financing.  The government might be able to afford it, but it’s not going to spend that kind of money unless there’s some mili­tary value in the result—or at the very least, some political benefit.  At first glance, a time machine seems to be something only historians and paleontologists could care about. Last night, I was trying to suggest some military value—you know, go back and stop a terrorist action before it happened—but dropping the glass gave me an idea!”

            I shook my head.  “I still don’t follow...”

            “That’s because you’re stupid.”  The old man was becoming increasingly excited.  “How is time travel possible?  Tell me in a simple sentence—as if you use any other kind.”

            I gave him a dirty look, but I don’t think he noticed.  “To travel in time, you simply—” I paused, realizing how dumb that sounded the minute I said it; nothing about this was simple.  But I plowed on: “—you simply bump yourself out of spacetime at one point and then bump yourself back in at another.”

            Nahor clapped his hands.  “Right!  And that point can either be a different place or a different time, or both.”

            “The stuff of which fiction is made,” I mumbled.

            He looked at me funny.  “But there’s a third possibility—and this is the one that will make the government give us the money.  You could bump yourself out at one point, and then stay right there—at a moment in time.”  His eyes lighted up.  “You wouldn’t have to go anywhere.  It would be like hitting the pause button on a TiVo.  From your perspective, time would seem to stop.  You could plant bombs, rescue hostages, go anywhere and do any­thing, and no one would see you do it!”

            I just smiled. 

            Looking back on it now, I know what I should have asked him, but I didn’t.  Not that I regret it necessarily, but sometimes, I just wish... 

            Hell, things might have been different if I’d asked just one simple question: “Why’re you telling me this?”

* * *

            The Prime Minister was Nahor’s friend.  Good thing, too.  I don’t think Nahor could have gotten to first base otherwise.

            Most everyone at the university he talked to thought he was cracked.  The other professors told him to his face; the graduate students just whispered it behind his back.  But Nahor was deter­mined, so he eventually got what he was after.

            The next thing I knew I was awakened by a knock on the door.  When I opened it, all sleepy-eyed with my hair going ten ways at once, the first thing I noticed was the Uzi.

            “Boqer tov,” said a voice: “Good morning.” 

            I gulped at the gun, then looked up at the bearded soldier holding it.

            “You need to come with me,” he said, smiling and friendly, except that it was three in the morning and he had this gun.  I mumbled something about the time, and “go where?”  He just smiled and walked in.  “Pack some clothes—and toothbrush.  You won’t be needing much.”

            “Can I shower first?”  I was finally starting to become alert.

            He shrugged and looked at his watch.  “Sure, why not.  You have five minutes.”

* * *

            Grumpy and scared, I stared out the window of the car taking me into the desert south of Jerusalem.  The driver was another soldier, this one clean-shaven.  The one with the beard sat in the front seat, cradling the Uzi in his lap as we bounced down a dirt road going eighty kilometers an hour, screeching around corners and throwing plumes of dust sky high.  Israeli drivers are all insane.  We drove south for an hour and then east for another half hour.  We bounced to a stop just as the sun was starting to lighten the horizon.

            Barbed wire fences, gun turrets, and armed guards were all that my frightened eyes noticed when I got out of the car.

            “You’ve taken me to jail!”  I moaned.

            The soldier with the Uzi laughed at me, grabbed my arm, and dragged me toward a long, low building constructed of concrete blocks.  No windows.

            Some people have overactive thyroids.  I have an overactive imagination.  The soldier took me into a large room.  A man in a lab coat turned around at our approach.

            “Hmmm, you’re here.  Good.” 

            It was Nahor. 

            I was, to understate the matter, relieved.

            “Why—” I began.  He cut me off.

            “Go back there and get dressed,” he pointed in the general direction of a door.  When I came back, trying to get the zipper on a nice white jump suit to work, the Uzi was gone, together with its soldier.  In their place were other people dressed like me.

            “Why—” I began again, but again I didn’t get to finish.

            “You’re slow.  Come.”  Nahor and the others headed outside. I felt obligated to follow, especially since one of the three newcomers was a gorgeous female, and my hormones started talking dirty to me.  Strolling ten meters to another concrete block building, I barely had time to notice that the sun had finally peeked above the horizon.

            Entering the second building, we wandered down a long hall, until we reached a high-ceilinged room where a bunch of people in dark suits were looking bored.  I took a deep breath.  “Nahor, could you please tell me what’s going on?” My voice boomed too loud. Everyone looked at me: Nahor, the sexy woman, and the dozen or so stuffy looking fellows that were already there.

            “Yehudah,” asked Nahor, looking really ticked.  “Did you bring your brain with you this morning, or did you leave it sleeping in bed again?”

            I nodded weakly.

            He frowned and turned to the dozen stuffed shirts gathered in the room.  They were standing around a black box with a door. It looked like a telephone booth to me.

            “Gentlemen, Mr. Samuelson has volunteered to be our test subject today.”  He nodded at me.

            Next thing I knew Nahor was bundling me into the black box, which even close up still looked like a telephone booth, except for the chair he strapped me into.  He glued wires to my body, and prodded me in places even I didn’t like to touch.

            “Mr. Samuelson will be sent five minutes into the future,” Nahor smiled.  He leaned close to me, frowned, and growled: “Don’t touch anything.  Just sit there.  It’s all pre-programmed. You’re just going along for the ride.”

            Nahor slammed the door on me.  I could hear his muffled voice outside, probably talking to the stuffed shirts again.

            Why me?  Typical question.  Typical answer: why not?  Nahor was probably too chicken to try it himself.

            “Can you hear me?”  The voice boomed through loudspeakers in front of my face.  I jumped and nodded.  It was Nahor.

            “I can’t hear your head rattle.”

            “Um, I hear you just fine,” I finally responded.

            “Good.  Just relax.  This won’t hurt. At least I don’t think it will—”

            “You’ve tried this before?”

            “Not with this particular machine; only little ones, with animals.  Most of them lived.”  I suppose that was supposed to be comforting.

            “Isn’t there something I should do?”

            “Nope.  Just sit there.  I’ll give you a countdown; then I’ll get you out.  Wait for me.  Don’t open that door unless I tell you to.  Understand?”

            “What if something goes wrong?”

            “What could go wrong?”

            I could think of a few million possibilities.

            “Five—four—three—two—one.”  There was a click, and then silence.  I felt a flutter in my stomach, but it lasted only a second. 

            “Well?” I asked.  “Did anything happen?”

            The speakers were silent.

            After awhile I decided to sing to myself.  My friends always insist that I sing to myself—in a soundproof room, if possi­ble.

            “A hundred bottles of beer on the wall, a hundred bottles of beer, take one down and—” When I got down to forty-eight bot­tles of beer on the wall the door finally swung open.

            “About time you—”

            “Mah zeh?” asked a startled male voice.  “What’s this?”  A young soldier hurriedly pulled up on his zipper and backed out quick.

            Needless to say, I realized that something unplanned had happened.  Nahor’s orders not withstanding, I decided to open the door and peek out.

            On my right the sun was up, about where I remembered it from my brief walk outside; it was still early morning. To the left stretched the Mediterranean, the waves lapping the virtually deserted beach.  It was still too early for sunbathing. 

            Sometimes I’m slow, so it took me at least thirty seconds to realize that I was no longer in a secret government compound in the middle of a desert.  Gawking at the ocean for at least anoth­er minute, I slowly undid the electrodes that had been pasted to my body.  Then I got outside into the open and looked around, trying to figure out where I was.  It wasn’t too hard.  On the other side of the black machine I found a sign—the kind they’ve got up for tourists. It said “Ashqelon.”

            At least I was still in Israel.

            Poking my head back in the time machine, I checked again just to make sure there weren’t any controls in it that I could operate.  It was bare except for the chair, the wires, and two speakers. I sighed and closed the door.  Thankfully I’d brought my wallet with me.  I went hunting for the bus stop.

            An hour later I was in a bus careening back to Jerusalem, trying to figure out what had happened.  Five minutes into the future.  Why did I end up on the Mediterranean coast?  Then it hit me.

            The Earth is 40,075.51 kilometers in diameter.  It therefore rotates at about 1670 kilometers per hour, or about 139 kilome­ters every five minutes. That meant the coast was about 139 kilometers from wherever the secret base was.  Good thing they hadn’t sent me six minutes into the future.  I’d have been tread­ing water.

            That idiot Nahor hadn’t made sure I’d come back into space-time at the same place on the Earth’s surface as I’d left.  Then I turned white.

            The Earth also moves around the sun at about 29.8 kilometers per second—or about 107,280 kilometers in five minutes; there was also the motion of the sun toward Vega to consider, and the motion of the solar system around the galactic core—not to mention the galaxy’s motion wherever it’s going... 

            Crap!

            I was lucky he’d messed up on only one calculation.  I could have been sucking vacuum!

            Time travel wasn’t just dangerous, it was a job for a fool.

            When I got back to Jerusalem I went directly to my apartment and called Nahor’s office.  I’d have called the base, but he neglected to give me their phone number.  I told Nahor’s secretary where I was and where Nahor could go. Then I went to sleep.

            The phone woke me at noon.

            “Got your message,” said Nahor’s voice.  “You didn’t follow directions.”

            “Neither did you.”

            “Huh?”

            “You said you got my message.”

            Silence.

            “Aren’t you curious about what happened to me?”  I asked.

            “A little...”  I could tell he was getting irritated.  Good.  That made two of us.

            “Want your machine back, too, I suppose?”

            “There is that,” he grumbled.

            “I don’t have it.  They wouldn’t let me take it on the bus.”

            “No, I don’t suppose they would...” A long pause.  “What bus?”

            “I think the machine’s being used as a urinal in Ashqelon.”

            “Is that supposed to be a joke?  You know I have no sense of humor...”

            “No joke, that’s where the machine is.”

            “Ashqelon?”

            “Ashqelon.”

            “How?...”

            “Think about how far the Earth rotates in five minutes.”

            Silence again.  I could tell lights were going on in his head.

* * *

            No apology, but profuse assurance that all the bugs were fixed and it would work perfectly the next time.  I was gullible and believed him and even let him take me back to the base.  Maybe I’m a fool.  In any case, Nahor managed to get the time machine back from Ashqelon too, and with a minimum of difficulty.  Aside from the space differential, Nahor was relatively pleased with the test.  He even forgave me for getting out of the thing without permission. Big of him. 

            I worked at forgiving him for losing me.

            After a wretched night’s sleep, I awakened to a cold shower.   Nahor met me in his office at seven. 

            “Sit down,” he said, overly friendly. “Want some coffee?”

            I shook my head.

            “I suppose I should have given you more warning before the last experiment, but it was a rush job; you know how the govern­ment can be.”

            “Pushy.”

            “Exactly.  They wanted a test, and they wanted it right then.  I gave them an interesting show.”

            I’d seen the tapes.  Actually, it was pretty neat.  The time machine just suddenly wasn’t there any more.  No fading or shim­mering like in the movies. Just one second it was there, and the next it was gone.  There was a rather loud pop as the air filled the hole it left. 

            “This next test trip is, for want of a better term, side­ways: we’ll put you out of phase with space-time, so that time around you stops.  For want of a better term, I’ve decided to designate that state as interphase.  I must admit that I don’t know exactly what things will be like in that state, but I can tell you some of the things you might expect, and what we want you to test.”

            So, for the next two days I was in training.  And then I found myself sitting in the time machine with a rope, an assort­ment of objects—and I was wearing a pressure suit, since chances were I’d wind up unable to breathe what in interphase would be soup-like air.

            Another countdown, and then the fluttering in my stomach, followed by silence.  One thing was different about the machine this time.  I had a kill switch.  When I’d finished the experi­ments, I’d push the button, and—probably—come back to where I was supposed to be.

            Opening the door, I looked out.  I was still in the labora­tory.  So far, so good.  Everybody was standing pretty much as I remembered them.  Nahor was hovering by the control panel.

            No one was moving.

            I looked at the big clock on the wall.  The second hand had stopped.

            This was going to be fun. 

            The first thing was to open the door to the bathroom.  I was supposed to find out how much of my environment could be manipu­lated in interphase; that is, Nahor wanted to know what sorts of things I could do.  Could I rescue a hostage?

            I clambered out of the time machine, being careful not to tangle the rope that kept me tied to the contraption.  Without that rope, I would probably have dropped back into normal space-time.

            Outside the machine, I found myself forced to move in slow motion.  The air was stiff and resistant—like I was moving through water.  It was really tough going.  When I got to the bathroom door I put my hand on the knob.  It felt funny—and it wouldn’t budge.  Try as I might, I couldn’t get the knob to turn, or the door to open.  I tested other things in the room, finding them all equally immobile and hard.  I tried to lift the skirt of one of the female technicians. It wouldn’t budge.  So much for my fantasies.

            I tried picking up papers off a desk, but it was as if they were glued down and made of sheet metal: absolutely immovable. This was weird, but pretty much what Nahor had predicted. 

            Time for stage two experiments.  I went back to the machine and pulled out two rubber balls.  I took careful aim and heaved.

            The instant the ball left my fingers it stopped moving; it floated, suspended in the air.  I tapped at it; it was hard, and immobile—like I’d nailed it to a wall. Separated from the machine, it had dropped into phase.  That meant that the time field was dependent on contact with the machine; however, touch­ing an object did not bring it out of phase.

            Walking to a different part of the room, I took careful aim again and released the second ball.  From two directions, assuming my aim wasn’t off, Nahor should be getting smacked in the head with rubber balls.  Some fantasies do come true.

            Returning to the machine, I pulled out the gun.  It had been specially constructed to work in an airless environment.  Pointing it at a target placed on the wall for this very purpose, I squeezed.  The recoil jerked my hands back, leaving me with the peculiar sight of a bullet hanging in the air, surrounded by the smoke and flame of the discharge.  I touched the smoke, but it was as hard and firm as everything else in this odd environment.

            I emptied the clip slowly, discharging one bullet at a time from different positions.  In the end, there were six flower-like patterns hanging in the air.

            The last thing I did before getting back in the machine was an unofficial experiment.  I took a bottle of nail polish I’d hidden in my pocket, and painted Nahor’s nails.  The paint went on easily, and appeared to harden at once. 

            Chuckling happily, I re-entered the time machine and flipped the switch.

            Pandemonium.

            I heard six loud pops as the bullets smashed into the tar­get; I also heard a satisfying yelp from Nahor as the balls hit him, or—at the very least—surprised him.  I opened the door and got out.

            “You idiot!” Nahor shouted.  “You weren’t supposed to throw them at me!”

            I just shrugged.

            “How long did you spend out of phase?”

            “Isn’t that sort of a nonsensical question?” 

            He gave me a funny look.  “You know what I mean.”

            “Well, let me peel out of this suit and check my watch.”  I already had the helmet off.  No one offered to help, so I moved as sluggishly as possible.

            “You asked the time?” I queried, innocently, once I had the suit off.

            “Go stuff yourself!”

            “Well, if you don’t want to know...”

            He leapt for me and grabbed my wrist.

            “Nahor, such pretty nails you have.”

            His eyes bugged out.  His nails were a lovely pink. “What?!...”

            “Best not touch them; I don’t know that they’re dry yet.”

            Just because Nahor has no sense of humor doesn’t mean no one else in the room was laughing.

* * *

            Exactly three weeks later it happened.

            To this day, no one’s quite sure how.  I mean, El Al has the best security in the industry.  It’s impossible to sneak a mos­quito on board, let alone a bomb or a gun.  Or at least that’s what everyone had thought.

            “Wake up!  Wake up!” someone was pounding on my door and shouting. 

            Nahor. 

            I looked at the clock.  It was half past four.  I hadn’t known such a time of day existed.  What did they think this place was?  A kibbutz?  I refuse to become a farmer.  Farmers have to get up before the sun rises.  What’s wrong with them?

            “Go away!” I shouted and hid my head under my pillow.

            Next thing I knew the pillow was off the bed, and so was I.

            “We’ve got no time for fooling around.  You get to be a hero today!”

            I’ve never figured out why anyone wants to be a hero.  You have to risk your life to be a hero.  I hate risks.  Soft beds and warm women are more my speed, thank you very much.

            Nahor stood impatiently tapping his foot as I dressed myself and tried to imagine the horrors he had in store for me. 

            I stumbled after him to where the time machine was kept.  The lights were on, and there were a bunch of soldiers standing around.  I could tell right off that Nahor had something unpleas­ant planned for me.

            Nahor sat me down in a chair and a general whom I vaguely recognized from TV sat down across from me.  He looked tired and very, very worried.

            “Mr. Samuelson, at 21:09 last night, El Al flight 103, Paris to Tel Aviv, was commandeered by three Hezbollah terrorists.  They diverted the plane to Beirut, and it’s on the ground there now.”

            I went cold all over.

            I suspected today was not going to be fun.

            “We want you to rescue the passengers.  They’re being held as hostages in exchange for twenty terrorists we’ve got locked up in our jails.”

            I felt like I’d been hit with a brick.

            “So what do I have to do?”

* * *

            There was a slight flutter in my stomach, and then silence.

            I peered from the machine.  I was on a flat plain of con­crete; old, dilapidated buildings stood off to my left.  To my right, not ten meters away, sat an El Al 747.  At least Nahor’s aim was good this time.

            An Uzi slung over my shoulder, I snuck over to the plane, trailing a nylon cord that kept me attached to the time machine. Don’t ask me why I snuck: I told you before, I’m a little slow sometimes.  In my pockets were all sorts of odd things they’d made me take: rope, thread, paper, photographs, aluminum foil.  I even had my nail polish.  Maybe I’d decorate someone: Nahor seemed to appreciate it.  The door in the middle of the plane was open, and one of the gunmen was standing there with a machine gun of some kind in his hands.  A big grin on his face, he was watch­ing a truck approach the plane; it was supposed to be loaded with food.  If the army had done its job, there should be a bunch of armed soldiers hiding behind that shiny stainless steel camper shell, instead.

            The airliner’s door was several meters over my head and there was no ladder.  But this was not supposed to be a problem.  They had given me a rope, and all I had to do was toss the loop up and over something, and then haul myself up. 

            Right.

            The first problem was what to toss the rope over.  The door? It looked too big.  The terrorist?  Why not?  He wasn’t going anywhere.  Feeling like a cowboy in some western, I swung the loop and released one end of the rope, clinging tightly to the other end.  The rope rose slowly, bunching oddly, and missed, dropping to the tarmac.

            “Crud!”

            I tried again.  Closer.  It bumped the terrorist in the face, slid down his body, and dropped to the ground.  I tried this fifteen times before it came to me.

            I swung, and as the loop hit the face of the terrorist, I released the other end.  The rope dropped into phase, suddenly becoming a solid, immobile snake hanging in the air.

            Simple.

            I chinned my way up the rope, then grabbed the terrorist by his feet, and dragged myself the rest of the way into the doorway.  I pulled out the pictures of the suspected terrorists before I went any further.  Abdul Ilbab.  I looked at the grinning face. I’d put a stop to that real fast.  Pointing the Uzi at the bastard’s head, I pulled the trigger. 

            Six bullets were hanging in the air.  Two would hit the back of his head.  Four would angle in across his neck.  He probably wouldn’t even have a head after that.

            I sighed contentedly and went into the plane.

            I didn’t really need the pictures.  The passengers had all been herded to the back of the plane, where they were reduced to sitting on the floor and each other.  According to the informa­tion I’d been given, there were two hundred sixty-three on board, including crew.  It looked like they’d all been crowded into a space designed for a hundred.

            Several passengers appeared to have fallen asleep.  Sweat was sparkling in great drops on everyone’s face.  From my brief­ing, I remembered that the plane’s air conditioning and electri­cal system had burned out—and Lebanon was hot this time of year.  The second terrorist was easy to spot: he was the one with the gun.

            His mouth was open in what looked like a snarl.  I put one bullet in there, and planted two others in front of his face. They’d impact his eye sockets.  I put a round in his belly while I was at it.  No one was behind him, thankfully, so who would complain?  There was something quite satisfying about overkill.

            Two down, one to go.

            I headed back the way I had come, figuring the last terror­ist was probably up toward the cockpit.  I prayed that the door was open.

            Then I fell. 

            It was my own fault.  I admit it.  I’d forgotten about the nylon cord that kept me tied to the time machine’s field.  It was an extremely strong cord, designed in such a way that nothing I could do would break it.  They just hadn’t figured on me tripping over it.  In automatic reflex, I threw my hands out in front of me to break my fall.  In the process, I also tossed the Uzi to one side.

            When I sat up I saw my Uzi hanging in the air, in mid-flight, right where I had dropped it.

            To say I was in trouble is an understatement.  That had been the only gun they’d sent with me.  After all, it was only three terrorists.  Why should I need more than one gun?

            The best laid plans of idiots...

            What was I going to do?  I sat and stared at the Uzi, curs­ing myself in several unflattering, but ingenious ways until I decided that this was not going to help me with my problem.  I simply had to find the last terrorist.  Maybe I could think of something to do when I found him.

            Pulling the nylon rope from around the bolt that had caught and tripped me, I trudged determinedly forward.  The curtains between coach and first class were thankfully pulled open.  So far, so good.  I climbed the stairs to the upper deck, pulling at the rope and becoming irrationally concerned that it wouldn’t be long enough. 

            The cockpit door was open!

            Two crew members, whom I took to be pilot and copilot were sitting in their seats.  Between them stood a vicious looking man, eyes glaring, teeth bared.  Drops of sweat which had dripped from his face hung motionless in the air, sparkling like diamonds.  I looked at the photographs.  His name was Muomar Sayif.  What was I going to do with him?  He had a gun in one hand, and a hand grenade in the other.  The pin had been pulled. Only his hand holding it closed kept it from exploding.

            I told you this wasn’t going to be a fun day.

            It took me a few moments, but I finally remembered the thread in my pocket.  Carefully unwinding a length of it, I began tying it around the grenade.  I used the whole spool. Overkill again, but I was determined that the grenade would not go off when the terrorist dropped it.  When he dropped it.  Why was I suddenly so optimistic?  Positive attitudes did not play big roles in my personality.

            I stared at Muomar for several minutes, deep in thought.  I had to take out this terrorist.  But how?

            Suddenly the answer was obvious.

            Finishing quickly, I left without further incident.

            What did I do?  I did something that I knew would completely incapacitate the terrorist; and it was emotionally satisfying as well.  Sort of.

            Ever had your eyeballs painted with pink nail polish?

            Muomar says it smarts.  Bad.  And he should know.


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